Last month we talked about how the groundwork was being laid for the Article “on which the Church stands or falls” – i.e., the teaching on Justification.
Just a quick aside before we go there – there’s a series of three YouTube videos* that have been “published” by the Ten Minute Bible Hour. In them a non-Lutheran visits a Lutheran church, asks a lot of questions, and is given a short-course on the Reformation and what these confessions (and a whole lot of other Lutheran things) are about. In one of the exchanges the pastor is asked if the divinity of Christ is THE CENTRAL teaching for Lutherans. The response is something to the effect that there is not really ONE thing that comes from the revelation of Scriptures that is far above all the rest. And he’s right! The whole teaching of how God comes to us to save us has lots of different parts. These parts are so tightly interrelated that we really must look at them as a whole and see how they tie together. This will become more important and obvious as we move through these Articles.
But now (drum-roll please), Article IV – On Justification: Our churches with common consent do also teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith in God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Romans 3 and 4. (**AC IV 1-4)
If you’d like a preview of Romans 3 and 4, “read, study and inwardly digest” Ephesians 2:8-9. I had the confirmands memorize this very short, succinct version of the Lutheran teaching on Justification. (You should memorize it too!!) There are a gazillion other places in the Scriptures that say or strongly imply the same thing.
This “Readers’ Digest Condensed version” of the teaching is kind of sneaky. Because there are a ton of questions that come up from thinking about this. And when God’s Word answers them clearly, our sinful natures (remember Article II) mostly don’t like what we hear. Questions like “how do I receive this ‘gift’?” “Is it a once and done deal? Or can I lose it?” Or, “you mean I do NOTHING for this?” “Do I at least make a decision about this?” “What about ‘good works’? Surely they count for something?” “What about the Law? Do I get to do whatever I want and keep coming back and say some words and I’m good to go again?”
Through the rest of the confessions – not just in the Augsburg Confession – this is a pervasive and constant theme. This is hammered into the psyche of Lutherans who read the confessions again in the Smalcald Articles, in which Luther writes that “Of this article (on justification) nothing can be yielded or surrendered (nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same), even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin.” (Ibid., SA II I 5)
It is a gift. It happens to us as we hear God’s Word.
Now – (in the words of the Small Catechism’s explanations to the Ten Commandments) – “What does this mean?”
Come back next month to hear more!!
*These videos can be viewed using the links below
**(Concordia Triglotta: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church; CPH, St. Louis, MO, 1921)